The discovery

June 16, 2004 — Excavation director, Nick Card, examines the geophysics scan results during the initial excavations on the Ness of Brodgar. (Sigurd Towrie)

June 16, 2004 — Excavation director, Nick Card, examines the geophysics scan results during the initial excavations on the Ness of Brodgar. (Sigurd Towrie)

 

The stone that started it all! The notched stone The stone that started it all! The notched stone ploughed up in April 2003. (Sigurd Towrie)

The stone that started it all! The notched stone ploughed up in April 2003. (Sigurd Towrie)

Until the early years of the 21st century, the huge, whalebacked mound at the south-eastern tip of the Ness of Brodgar was thought to be a natural feature.

Bar two standing stones to the north west of the Brig o’ Brodgar there was nothing to see. Travelling between the other renowned Neolithic monuments in the area, such as the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, countless thousands of people passed by the giant mound over the years.

But, despite a few clues over the centuries, few gave it a second glance.

In 1999, a project to geophysically survey the entire Orkney World Heritage Site began. In 2002, it reached the southern tip of the Ness, where the results revealed a cluster of sub-soil anomalies,

“Indicative of settlement”, these covered an area of 2.5 hectares at the south-eastern end of the isthmus. The sheer concentration of anomalies, and the variation, astonished archaeologists.

Carol Hoey and Gert Peterson reveals the corner of Structure One for the first time in millennia. (Sigurd Towrie)

Carol Hoey and Gert Petersen reveal the corner of Structure One for the first time in millennia. (Sigurd Towrie)

A few months later, in April 2003, a large, notched, stone slab was ploughed up in the area.

Initially thought to be part of a Bronze Age burial cist, the possibility that human remains had been disturbed led to a rescue excavation by Beverley Ballin-Smith and Gert Petersen, from the Glasgow University Research Division.

There was no cist but what was revealed was part of a large, building, similar in style to House Two at the nearby Barnhouse Neolithic Village.

Following the discovery of what we now refer to as Structure One, a resistivity survey was carried out to try to define the extent of the built archaeology and complement the initial gradiometer survey.

The results confirmed that something large and complex lay under the soil, so further investigations began.

To examine the nature, depth and extent of these suspected archaeological deposits, eight test-trenches were placed across the site in 2004.

They confirmed what was already suspected – that much of the mounded ridge was artificial and covered a huge complex of structures and middens all dating from the Neolithic.

And excavation began…